New Sensors on RAF Sea Kings

UK PROCUREMENT Minister Lord Bach announced on June 18 that work had begun on installing advanced sensors on the RAF’s Sea King search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter fleet. The upgrade will significantly improve the ability of RAF SAR teams to detect missing people in all weather conditions. Initially, two Sea King HAR.3AS (ZH542 and ZH545) – operated by 22 Squadron A Flight and based at RMB Chivenor, north Devon — have been fitted with the new Sea King Multi Sensor System (SKMSS), which uses FLIR Systems’ STAR-Q thermal imaging equipment.

SKMSS is an infra-red detection system that can detect a person in the water from over 1/2 mile (1km) away, even in choppy or stormy seas, at night or in poor visibility. It comprises a thermal-imaging camera mounted alongside a daylight TV camera in a gyro-stabilised turret on the side of the lower hull of the helicopter. The system feeds images to a display unit in the cabin and an airborne video recorder.

SKMSS has been supplied to the Ministry of Defence by FLIR Systems Ltd of West Mailing, Kent, and was procured and integrated at a cost of £10 million, which is £2 million below the allocated budget — something of a rarity for defence procurement projects in the UK these days.

It will be installed on the entire RAF Sea King fleet of 25 helicopters over the next 18 months; with the work being undertaken by the Helicopter Maintenance Flight at RAF St Mawgan, Cornwall.

FLIR Systems says that although the contract stipulates 18 months for completion, it hopes to finish the job much earlier, but this will be dependent on when the RAF can rotate these valuable aircraft out of service to have the work undertaken.

Although the SKMSS contract, awarded in November 2001, covers the supply of only 16 full systems – however, 25 helicopters will have the equipment fitted to receive it. As installation only takes about 20 minutes, the system will be easily interchangeable between those helicopters.

This means that all eight SAR bases, with two aircraft each, will have the turret fitted, but reserve aircraft will not. In addition to the two at Chivenor, the SKMSS will be fitted to the Sea King HAR.3/3As of 22 Squadron B Flight at Wattisham, Suffolk and C Flight at RAF Valley, Anglesey. The upgrade will also be applied to aircraft operating with 202 Squadron, A Flight at RAF Boulmer, Northumberland; D Flight at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland and E Flight at RAF Leconfield, East Yorkshire. In addition, the only overseas RAF SAR Sea King unit — 78 Squadron at RAF Mount Pleasant, Falkland Islands -will also gain the system.

It has not yet been determined in which order these Sea King bases will be equipped with the SKMSS. And while crews are getting up to speed on the system, several of the upgraded HAR.3s will be used for SKMSS training with 203 (Reserve) Squadron at St Mawgan.

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